book review, historical fiction, history

Review: The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray

Stephanie Dray does it again with this epic gem of a historical fiction novel highlighting three amazing women. The Women of Cheateau Lafayette weaves their lives together; the women bound by the Chateau Chavaniac-Lafayette, the home of American Revolution war hero the Marquis de Lafayette.

In the 18th-century, we follow Adrienne de La Fayette (nee Noailles,) who at the age of 15 married Gilbert du Motier, or the Marquis de Lafayette, just a few years before he earned worldwide fame and glory for his participation in the American Revolution. Although politically savy, opinionated, and relatively open-minded, Adrienne is still very much a woman of her time. She has fierce, almost blind, loyalty to her husband despite his mistakes. She is the embodiment of “Republican Motherhood” in that she carries on as a strong mother while her husband is away, elevates her family name and legacy, and drives her own life according to that of her husband. Essentially, Adrienne lives for her husband’s image and legacy, rather than her own, which she sees inextricably wound with his.

Marie Adrienne Francoise de Noailles

During WWI, we follow Beatrice Astor Chanler (Minnie Ashley,) stage performer turned wealthy wife of an Astor heir. A real historical figure like Adrienne, Beatrice strives to make change wherever she goes. To share her wealth by fundraising and providing aid to soliders in the trenches. Crossing the U-Boat-ridden Atlantic several times during the war, Beatrice often risks her own safety and happiness in her eternal quest to do something, be it relief missions, fundraising galas, and even starting her own orphanage and hospital foundation at the Chateau de Lafayette. She discovers it is not the men in her life who define her, but her own drive and dreams to impart change.

Beatrice Astor Chanler when she went by her stage name Minnie Ashley

Third, we follow author-fabricated character Marthe Simone, orphan of the Chateau and sculptor, living in Nazi-occupied France during WWII. While Marthe herself was not real, some of the people working at the Chateau orphanage and hospital were. The author’s note indicates Marthe was inspired by the story of a nameless woman at the Cheateau who hid and helped 15 Jewish children escape the Gestapo. Marthe comes of age as a modern woman, wrestling with her feelings and attractions, while trying beyond all disregard for her own happiness to help those in danger of arrest and deportation by the Nazis regime. We truly experience Marthe’s, much like Adrienne and Beatrice, process of discovering her own heart (both in romantic relationships, as well as her life’s drive.)

Cate Blanchett in Charlotte Grey, or what I imagine Marthe to look like.

Other than the Chateau itselfs, all three woman live for something beyond themselves. It is not just the extraordinary revolutions and wars in which they live that highlight their life missions, but also their hearts which yearn for fulfillment and meaning beyond a “simple” life, even if it means great risk. In essence, all three women could not contentedly exist without making a postive impact to the dramatically changing world around them.